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Raeden woke up with a roar of anger coming from his throat. He was lying naked on a padded table. He also seemed to be completely paralyzed, except for his head.
What the fuck?
Even as he started to morf, he took in his surroundings.
The room looked like an operating room: clinical and sterile, mostly white, with a multitude of gleaming equipment and machines. It smelled of antiseptic. Raeden had been in similar rooms before, but this was not one he recognized.
There were a couple of men dressed in white coats, although they weren’t wearing gloves or masks and didn’t look like they were about to perform surgery. One was tall and thin with a wispy blonde moustache and balding pate. The other was shorter and stockier with red hair and pale, freckled skin. They were standing a few feet away, staring at him with interest.
He had various electrodes attached to his body, including a few that were attached to his forehead and the back of his neck at the base of his skull. He assumed that was what was making it so he couldn’t move. The electrodes all fed into a machine that was suspended from the ceiling above his head.
All of this information he took in in a split second, even as his mind reached out for Kim and found … nothing. He immediately went berserk. Kim! he screamed as loud as he could over the mindlink.
There was only silence. He couldn’t feel Kim at all.
Panic gripped him. This was too much like when he lost Lyzel. Anguish overwhelmed him as he transformed into his lizard form. He had morfed when Lyzel died as well; that was the last time he’d been able to morf until he finally bonded with Kim. As his transformation completed, his mind switched to screaming, Mate! Mate!
There was still no response. His lizard brain was in control and he thrashed futilely against the invisible bonds that held him, his limbs barely trembling as he tried to move them with all his might. His deafening roars rattled the equipment and the lab men cringed, the tall wispy one covering his ears. He fought hard for several minutes, straining and gasping and screaming the entire time, until finally the red-haired lab man stepped up to the machine over his head and punched a button. He lost consciousness immediately.
When next he awoke, he was lying on the same table, still unable to move. Wispy and Red were still there. He became immediately aware of Kim’s presence. He wasn’t in the same room, but he was nearby. He also wasn’t fully conscious, Raeden could tell, but he was cold. That thought came through to him loud and clear.
Raeden was flooded with relief that Kim was alive. At the same time, fury exploded within him that they were keeping him separated from his mate, and his mate was uncomfortably cold. He fought to keep control of himself. He didn’t want to morf again and lose his higher brain functions. He wouldn’t be able to get out of this situation with brawn. His captors, who he suspected were CorpSec goons, were obviously prepared to deal with mods. Although he was one of the biggest and strongest, he didn’t think he’d be able to break out of the invisible bonds that held him. He needed his brain so he could analyze the situation and determine his best course of action.
He took deep breaths and willed his heart rate to slow down. Kim was not in pain, he told himself. He’s just subdued and cold. His eyes sought the nearest lab technician, Wispy.
“Where is my mate and what have you done to him?” he asked, trying to keep the snarl out of voice.
The blonde paused for a second before answering and Raeden realized he must be wired. He was getting instructions from someone who wasn’t in the room. There would be cameras too, of course. Raeden didn’t even bother to look for them.
Raeden wasn’t a person, he was a specimen. Incubated in a test tube and raised in an institution, he was less than human. He was property—valuable property, but property none-the-less. He belonged to the Corporation, there was no doubt about it. In spite of his contract, the façade of rights and liberty, he was no more than chattel.
All of his life he’d chaffed under this knowledge, angry that he had been created in a lab from spliced together genes that weren’t even all human. He hadn’t been born out of love, or even lust, between a man and woman. He had fought for years to come to terms with the circumstances of his creation, to accept himself as a mod and as a man. With Lyzel’s help he had finally grown to understand that he was not a non-entity. He was a thinking, feeling, loving person. He was part of humanity even if they rejected him as such.
But he always resented reminders that he was considered less than human. And this—being held immobile on some sterile lab table while humans poked gaziantep escort and prodded at him and recorded his every fart—this was irrefutable evidence that he was simply a lab rat. A genetically modified organism. A science experiment gone wrong.
“The man you were captured with is nearby,” Wispy said, “but he is not your mate.”
Raeden couldn’t stop the low growl that came out of his mouth. The audacity of these men to assume they knew anything about his thoughts and feelings. He may be a created organism, but he was a very complex created organism. Kim most certainly was his mate. That was undeniable. And he needed his mate by his side.
Cold. I’m so cold.
Kim was waking up, but he was uncomfortable. His head also hurt like hell and he was nauseous, Raeden could tell. Taking in his own surroundings, he realized that the temperature in the room was a chilly ten degrees Celsius. He noticed both of his lab techs were wearing heavy sweaters under their coats. The cold didn’t bother him, but if Kim were strapped down naked in similar conditions, he would be freezing.
The thought of Kim naked for all of these CorpSec goons to observe almost had him morfing again. He closed his eyes and sought to connect with Kim.
Kim! Are you alright?
Raeden! Where are you? I feel like shit and I’m freezing.
I’m in a different room. But nearby, I think. Are you immobilized?
I haven’t opened my eyes yet, but I think … Oh god, Raeden! I can’t move.
Raeden felt terror clawing at Kim’s throat. He was immediately ready to morf again. What is it, Kim?
They’ve got me held down in some sort of operating room. Are they going to reform me? I can’t … I can’t…
Raeden felt Kim’s panic. He hadn’t considered such a thing himself, because why would they want to reform a functioning mod pair?
Calm down, Little One. I’m pretty sure they are not going to reform you. I think they’re just trying to figure out how I can morf again. They don’t think you’re my mate, although as far as I’m concerned, you are.
He felt Kim’s small burst of happiness amidst his pain and fear. I’d like to be your mate, he said. Raeden felt his shyness, his trepidation at admitting his desires.
You are already, Raeden assured him. I’ve bonded with you. I don’t know how it happened, but because of you, I’m fully functional again. After I lost Lyzel, I thought my life was over. But you … you made me care again. I cherish you, Kim. You’re a miracle. I’m not letting you go.
Raeden’s words thrilled Kim. In spite of his current circumstances, which were frightening indeed, he was ecstatic that Raeden had bonded with him. That meant they could stay together … they would take care of each other … for the rest of their lives. Kim’s joy was tempered when a stern voice spoke to him.
“Kim Takemoto, we know you’re awake. We have some questions for you.”
The rest of our lives might be pretty damn short and possibly pretty damn miserable, Kim realized. He was already miserable. His body felt achy, his head felt like someone was pounding on it with an anvil, and judging by the amount of saliva pooling in his mouth, he was going to be sick to his stomach very soon.
He had already taken a quick peek, but now he opened his eyes and looked around. Ignoring the clinical coldness of the room and the scary-looking equipment, he focused on its two other occupants.
One was a short, wiry black man wearing 1950s-style fashion glasses, and the other was of average height but built like a tank. His head was shaved smooth and tattooed all over with an intricate geometric pattern. The black man was looking at the readout on one of the monitors and occasionally typing on a keyboard. The tattooed man was glaring at him with dark, unreadable eyes.
Kim glared right back.
Be careful what you say, Kim, he heard Raeden speaking in his head. Apparently Raeden had heard the man’s statement over their mindlink. We need to convince them that we are a bonded pair. That will be very valuable to them. However, I’m not sure I want them to know about our mindlink. And especially don’t tell them that you could hear what the quents were saying. They’ll either think you’re crazy or they’ll keep you here forever to experiment on you.
Kim recoiled at his words, his nausea heightening. Pulling himself together, trying to appear calm and unafraid, he said simply. “I’m going to be sick.”
The black man—Gary, the thought came to him—glanced over at him in sympathy and then his fingers began to fly on the keypad. A moment later he asked, “Is that better?”
Kim was amazed to feel his nausea abating. His head still hurt like hell though and his body felt odd, as if he were catching the flu. And he was starting to shiver. “My stomach feels better. Thank you. But it’s freezing in here. Why is it so cold? And I feel like shit. What did you do to me?”
Poor kid. It’s unfortunate that he was shot with Xenoprine. No wonder he feels like shit. He’s lucky to be alive. Those were Gary’s thoughts. Kim looked at him in surprise and caught himself just before he replied. It sunk in that the man hadn’t spoken aloud.
What the hell, Kim? Raeden asked in alarm. Who is that?
Kim felt Raeden’s shock, mirroring his own.
It’s one of these guys here—the black one. How can I hear his thoughts? Those are his thoughts aren’t they? Maybe I’m just going mad.
You’re not crazy, Raeden affirmed. And you are lucky to be alive. Kim felt Raeden trying to rein in his temper. Xenoprine is a heavy-duty tranquilizer. It’s what it takes to knock a mod out. I can’t believe those idiots used it on you. Actually, I can believe it. CorpSec is not known for hiring the best and the brightest.
The tattooed man—Boris—answered. “We keep the temperature at ten degrees because some of the equipment is very sensitive and overheats easily.”
Kim’s temper flared. They were putting the comfort of the machines above his comfort. And they’d poisoned him for no good reason. They could have easily captured him without knocking him out at all. “What about me? I’m sensitive to cold.” He met Boris’s glare. “I’m not a mod, you know. I’m fucking freezing here with my nuts hanging out like this.”
And mighty nice nuts they are. That thought had come from Gary.
Raeden roared in fury in Kim’s mind and he felt the big mod struggling not to morf.
It’s okay, Raeden, he assured him. I think that was just a passing thought. He doesn’t seem malicious or even particularly horny.
“How did you meet Raeden?” Boris asked.
Kim stuck out his lower lip. He wanted to fold his arms across his chest in defiance, but he couldn’t move them. “I’m not answering any questions until I’m warmed up,” he said.
He felt Raeden smirking. You go, Kim!
“We can make you answer our questions,” Boris threatened. Kim felt something decidedly malevolent slide across the tattooed man’s mind.
“But there’s no need,” Gary interjected quickly, shooting Boris a look. Back off, Mongo. Kim heard that thought clearly. “They’re bringing blankets for him.”
Kim could tell that both Gary and Boris were getting instructions and commentary from someone who wasn’t in the room. Somehow he could feel their minds listening. Gary seemed easier to sense than Boris.
It’s so odd that I can hear their thoughts, Kim said to Raeden.
You’ll need to practice shielding your own, Raeden said. I haven’t sensed either of those guys trying to read you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if CorpSec brings someone in to try to read our minds.
Kim’s gut clenched at the thought of someone reading his mind and another wave of nausea rolled over him. He could tell his heart rate had sped up. Gary frowned at the monitor and glanced at him. Kim took a deep breath and tried to relax. He was shivering.
How do I prevent someone from getting in? he asked Raeden.
It helps to imagine a wall. Imagine building a wall around your mind. Here, let me show you. Try to read my mind.
Kim had no idea how to go about trying to read Raeden’s mind. He focused on following Raeden’s thoughts back to the origin, but he kept losing the thread along the way. Finally he managed to follow it all the back and then suddenly he was in Raeden’s mind. He had no doubt it was Raeden; it was familiar, almost like his scent. The first thing he felt was a barrage of emotion. Raeden was worried for him and frustrated at being physically separated. He felt Raeden’s intense need to be with him.
As he was processing this, he was suddenly shut out. Forcibly ejected all the way back to his own mind. He had to start over with finding and following a thread of Raeden’s thoughts. It was a little easier this time, but still took him a few tries. When he finally reached the source again, he found what seemed very much like a steel wall.
Is your wall made of steel?
Yes. When Raeden answered, some of his excitement leaked out, but the wall was quickly patched.
Kim moved around the wall, searching for a way in. The wall was made of steel panels, riveted together, completely encasing the contents of Raeden’s mind. Kim pushed on one of the panels right next to the seam. It flexed slightly. Kim pushed again harder and it bent inwards, creating a small crack.
Suddenly the wall was gone entirely and Kim was once more in Raeden’s mind. Raeden was filled with wonder and perhaps a touch of fear. He also seemed mentally breathless, if that were possible.
Good god, you’re strong!
Kim didn’t get a chance to respond, to find out exactly what Raeden meant. His blankets had arrived. Gary draped them over him. His body was racked with sudden shivers, but he sighed in contentment. The blankets had been warmed up. In no time at all his shivers subsided.
“Now,” you little brat, “tell us how you met Raeden,” Boris said.
Raeden sighed. He’d have to tell the whole story, or at least most of it, otherwise they’d never believe that he and Kim were bonded. He desperately needed them to believe that otherwise, Kim was worthless to them and would likely be destroyed—unless they found out he could read minds, in which case it could be much worse.
Kim had already told his side of the story. There had been considerable skepticism when Kim told them about bringing a derelict stranger into his home, but Kim had been able to tell that the monitors attached to his body confirmed that he was telling the truth. This was backed up a few minutes later when they examined Raeden for evidence of frostbite. He hadn’t been able to check out his feet, or even his hands, while pinned down, but he had a sense that they were completely healed. Apparently the machines had been able to pick up evidence of increased metabolic activity in Raeden’s toes, consistent with his healing process, to further corroborate Kim’s story.
Now they wanted him to tell his story, and so he did, burying his emotions as much as he could while he described how lost he had been without Lyzel. When he finally finished his story, they started over with Kim. The questions went on for hours. Both he and Kim had to tell their story many times over. Every minute discrepancy was pounced on, but in the end, their stories held because they were the truth.
So far Raeden was not impressed with their methods, and he was concerned that things might get much worse before they were finally finished. He asked that they bring in Dr. Michelle Granger. She was one of the scientists who had worked closely with Lyzel and him. She was extremely bright and compassionate as well. She held a high regard for the mods, unlike most of the CorpSec personnel and many of the other scientists. His request was ignored, so he repeated it at intervals throughout the interrogation, trying to convince them that she would best be able to tell whether or not he and Kim were truly bonded.
Then they were left alone for some hours. Luckily, Kim had thought to ask for water and they had each been set up with a drinking tube in easy reach of their mouths. But they were starving, and even though they’d both asked for food, they hadn’t been given anything to eat.
Raeden helped Kim practice his mind-shielding techniques until they had both fallen asleep, exhausted.
They were woken up before too long when their technicians returned.
They are going to do something bad, Kim told him, his fear escalating.
Serves you right, you little brat, Raeden heard Boris think over their mindlink. Kim could tell that Gary was uncomfortable with the task he’d been given, but he dutifully punched buttons into his console.
Suddenly Kim shrieked in pain in Raeden’s mind. And continued to scream. Raeden felt what Kim was feeling, although a step removed. His whole body went rigid and every nerve ending caught fire. He felt like he was about to combust.
Raeden immediately morfed. He fought fiercely to free himself from his invisible restraints. The only thought going through his mind was to kill whoever was hurting his mate. It seemed like the pain went on forever, but it probably wasn’t more than a few minutes before they shut it off.
Kim lay there panting. His body was covered with a sheen a sweat and he shivered under his blankets as a sudden chill took him. His mind was in shock, trying to process the blinding pain he’d felt.
Poor kid. I hope they figured out what they needed to know, otherwise that was sure not worth it. That thought had come from Gary.
Kim, are you alright? Raeden was beside himself with worry.
I’m fine. Kim hastened to assure him, still trying to get his bearings after such an intense experience. What about you? In spite of the extreme pain, he had been able to tell that Raeden had shared in his agony, that the big mod had morfed because of it.
Kim’s body spasmed with aftershocks. He took deep breaths and tried to settle himself.
What do you suppose that was about? he asked Raeden when he was able to think clearly again.
My guess is that they’re trying to see if we’re linked and, if so, how strong that link is.
Well, hopefully they’re convinced that we’re bonded now. I can’t imagine going through more of that kind of treatment. Kim shuddered.
Closing his eyes, he schooled his features into a calmness he didn’t feel. Then he reached out with his mind, seeking Gary’s. He wanted to know what they were going to do next, and didn’t want to be dependent on Gary projecting his thoughts, because that seemed to be rather random.
It was difficult to trace Gary’s mind. Raeden’s thoughts were much easier to locate. Kim assumed that was because he was bonded with Raeden. Or maybe because he knew him well. Kim wasn’t sure how the bonding process worked; for his part he thought maybe he was just in love. But love was probably the strongest bond of all.
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